Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) uses social media to engage, educate, and entertain audiences for companies like BearingPoint, British Telecom, GovDelivery, Microsoft, Monster, and Sun Mircosystems. But it doesn't pay interns.
Marc Hausman, president and CEO of Strategic Communications Group, is very clear about it in several places. Interns don't add enough value. Interns are lucky to work there for free. And interns ought to be grateful to get portfolio building assignments.
Fair enough. It's his business and if he cannot afford to pay a nominal rate of $8 or $10 or $12 per hour, I can only hope his business picks up. Sure, he is right that the Labor Department need not intervene. But to propose that unpaid internships ought to be standard practice, Hausman is as wrong as his justifications, as are many who commented in support of it.
Why Copywrite, Ink. Has Always Paid Interns.
• Interns Add Value. Sure, not all interns are created equal. Some prove to be a poor match or, in one case I recall, a legal liability. However, students in general add value to professional firms because most come into an internship with high expectations, infectious enthusiasm, and devoid of bad habits learned at other firms. They can also reveal strengths and weaknesses within the organization, especially among future management.
• Interns Earn Opportunities. If the internship program is designed correctly, then they aren't so lucky. They have to earn it, sometimes from a field of other qualified candidates. In other cases, they have to give up paid jobs with no promise of future employment. Sure, the firm might hire them. However, the firm's ability to hire them is not based purely based on their ability. It's based on the firm's fiscal position, which they have no control over. The trust-based risk is mutual.
• Firms Get Paid For Intern Work. If there isn't an opportunity to build at least some samples, paid or unpaid, it's not worth the time for the intern. However, even with oversight, there might be a question of ethics to charge clients for unpaid intern work (especially government clients) for what amounts to a higher profit margin. Besides, in today's world, portfolio building has never been easier. Students can create videos, blogs, and Web sites that demonstrate specific talents.
• Firms Invest In Training Anyway. There are always costs associated with candidate selection and training. If the firm accepts that risk when hiring any candidate, then how could it justify treating a student any differently? At minimum, an unpaid internship is like a free test drive that the same firms would never offer a client for a period of three months with set hours.
Are there times when unpaid internships are acceptable? Sure. Unpaid interns in the nonprofit sector make sense because it is called volunteer work. I encourage students to learn through community service on their own or under advisement.
One of the most beneficial and rewarding non-internship programs I developed five years ago for students taking the Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was to volunteer time to develop a media kit for the nonprofit organization of their choice and I would volunteer my time to provide step-by-step oversight. It was a win-win-win, given my near addiction to serving the community.
Only two students ever accepted the challenge. Both landed positions at major firms. As for our paid internships, all of the students with any talent whatsoever landed positions specific to their career goals, including one with a major New York publisher and one a position with a major Los Angeles public relations firm (there are many more, but those came to mind). We design our program that way. Two interns, after they left our firm, returned years later, not as employees, but as clients.
Certainly, internships require an investment by all parties, but it's a mistake to think that only the intern stands to receive a return on investment or that compensation ends with the privilege of allowing someone to stand over your shoulder. The return is directly proportionate to what you make it.
Next week, I'll offer up some insight into developing a paid internship program that works. In the meantime, please consider some other thoughts (and apparently few thoughts) on the value of paid internships. As a footnote, I might mention that communication (advertising, public relations, communication, social media) has become the hotbed of unpaid interns.
• PR Interns Part III: You Get What You Pay For
• All Work And No Pay: One In Three Interns Unpaid & Exploited
• Was Your Internship Illegal?